Sunday, March 8, 2009

France: The Final Frontier(s)

Of all the historical villains in recent history, it's hard to top Nazis when it comes to real-life monsters. Anybody that's watched a beauty pageant should know that white confidence is scary, and who's more confident in their own genes than Hitler's loyal fans? Retired Nazis are even more disturbing. What does a zealot--in this case, one with the religion of Aryan superiority--do when his or her cause has been defeated?

In the case of Frontier(s), you move to the French countryside, start procreating to produce very tall children, bait wayward travelers and cook some human flesh. The fact that France is now a fascist state in violent turmoil is just gravy.

Our hero/victims are a young group of thieves on the run: a shy Muslim, an obnoxious bleach job straight out of a teen sex comedy, a gun-waving angry guy, his pregnant ex-girlfriend and her bleeding brother. After a botched robbery and even botchier ER stop, the youths split up and set for the border, eventually reuniting at the kind of roadside inn that makes Motel Hell look like a five star resort (okay, maybe just a Best Western with free HBO). Two hostesses--one seemingly escaped from a haute couture runway, the other with more blond rage than Daryl Hannah's Kill Bill stunt double-- offer/demand carnal credit as an appetizer to what turns into a full family meal. The only real drawback is that said family includes a psychotic Third Reich exile and his gargantuan sons.

Frontier(s) follows a long, sometimes illustrious but more often low-rent tradition of hillbilly horror. Terrible things happen to our young cast, some of which is suspenseful and all of which is plain nasty. Recent years have shown that if there's one thing the French do well that isn't croissants, it's blood-soaked slashery flicks. From unique classics (Inside) to deeply flawed yet well-made gorefests (High Tension), French horror is stomping on the roses of Uncle Sam's turf and using the thorns to slowly bleed anyone that gets in the way (at least in the PG13 version; anything stronger usually involves more attacks on genitalia or filleting in the style of the Iron Chef). Frontier(s) is, in the modern definition, your fairly standard torture porn, but it's certainly worth its weight in guts and bones. And let's face it: fertile Nazis make nasty patriarchs.

High Points
A tunnel crawl chase makes the best use of claustrophobia since The Descent

From the vertically gifted family to leading lady Karina Testa, the actors attack their roles with energy and intrigue

The final imagery of our heroines has a paper dollish quality that adds beauty to extreme horror

Low Points
The political backdrop tries to set a chaotic mood, but it's lost too quickly once the predictable cannibal craze kicks in

The middle female child seems to have boiling resentment that's never explored

Call me greedy, but one or two quick glimpses at deformed mine-dwelling children just doesn't satisfy my appetite

Lessons Learned
When fleeing an isolated home at the end of the road, do not jump into the first car you see that's heading in the very direction you just crawled through pig shit to escape from

Nazis will honor last requests with promptness and efficiency

If you knock out one racist murderer with two very large and equally racist brothers, always remember that gloating just buys time for the next one to come along

French hospitals are not particularly hospitable

Rent: It's a definite horror experience, but I don't see Frontier(s) having a strong re-watchability factor. My Netflix disc was rather barebones, and while the gore is unique and refreshingly rough, the plot offers little innovation or food (of the non-human kind) for thought. I would love to see a prequel that allows for a more creative storyline rather than the by-the-numbers backwoods massacre formula that seems to be required of a film of this type. I'm certainly intrigued to see director Xavier Gens' next foray; let's home he keeps the executions but finds a new buildup.

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